Review © Larry D. Burns, 2003.

Directed by Shimoyama Ten, 2001, 85 mins. starring Megumi Okina, Yoichiro Saito, Koji Ogura, Reiko Matsuo and Minoru.

More of a mystery than an all-out horror movie, St. John’s Wort (aka Otogiriso) is one of those films that tries so hard to scare you, it sets you up for a completely unsatisfying ending. I guess I’m jumping the gun here, not to turn you off, but to be blatantly honest and direct, which this film is not.

Seemingly shot on digital video, perhaps to better manipulate the images without going overboard on the budget, St. John’s Wort tries so hard to be cutting edge and modern, at the sake of the pure, unadulterated horror that Japanese cinema has come to be known for. What starts off as a pulsing, image-laden flick slows down to an unbearable pace one will wonder “Is there anything else?” Unfortunately, there isn’t.

Synopsis

A group of twentysomething game developers are laboring over a new RPG they’re working on. Something about a madman, a little girl, an old mansion, and an inheritance. In comes Nami, an artist contributing character designs for the game. Nami looks for Kohei, who we later find out is her ex-boyfriend. Nami has just inherited an old mansion from parents she never knew she had, and she needs Kohei to drive her to the site.

Upon reaching the rather creepy looking mansion, Nami and Kohei are approached by the caretaker, who hand them the keys to the house. Kohei then notices the caretaker has strange marks on his wrists, but doesn’t pursue the matter further.

With Kohei filming their every move with his digital camera, the two enter the mansion, and they discover it to be foreboding and decidedly eerie. Nami tells Kohei about a recurring dream of hers, about a staircase, with a picture of a king at the top. Kohei suggests they look around, as perhaps the house holds answers to her dreams.

Kohei then notices the paintings on the walls, and recognizes them to be the work of a famous but reclusive artist named Kaizawa Soichi. Nami then realizes that she could be the daughter of the famous artist, and is slightly chilled by the idea, for the paintings are dark and surreal.

Exploring the house, Nami and Kohei go from room to room, finding remnants from what could be Nami’s past. They happen upon a music box. Contained herein is a photograph of twins, with Nami’s name written at the back, along with another name: Naomi. Nami has a twin sister! They decide to explore the house further to find clues on the whereabouts of Nami’s supposed twin sister.

Finding a set of keys in one of the drawers, Nami and Kohei use them to open what once was Kaizawa Soichi’s art studio. Here, they find an unfinished painting known to be Woman With Eyes Of Flame. Nami looks through the room and finds a scrapbook. She comes across a series of articles about a child who seem to have drowned 14 years prior. Nami assumes it’s her twin, and is saddened by this. They notice a figure at the end of the room. Kohei goes over to take a look, and it’s a mummified little girl. Nami hysterically points out it’s her twin sister, and the two flee the mansion in fear.

Outside, the two get into their car to drive away, but a rainstorm has caused mudslides and closed off their route. To make things worse, a tree branch falls on their car, making it unfit to drive. They have no choice but to go back in the house and wait for daylight.

As Nami takes a shower, a dark figure breaks in and attempts to kill her. Kohei comes in the last minute to drive the perpetrator away, only to see strange marks on his wrists. Kohei makes the deduction that it’s the caretaker that attempts to kill them. Using the internet, they send the footage of the house to their headquarters, where the team creates a schematic diagram of the house to find out where the perpetrator is hiding. They do, and when they find the room, they discover a series of cameras broadcasting from every corner of the house. They were being watched all this time. They see one room, where something is different from before. They go back out and discover the caretaker has hung himself. Beneath him is a trapdoor, where they find several mummified little girls.

As the mystery deepens, the two look for clues, both for the present danger, as well as Nami’s past. Who are these children? What is the secret behind Nami’s recurring dreams? Is the terror over?

Ultimately, the mystery is revealed, and it’s quite a disappointment. There are more unanswered questions at the end than there are resolutions. Asking them here would spoil the mystery, so I’ll leave them for you to ask yourself when you see it.

The film is rife with tried and true horror movie clichés. You know, darkly lit hallways, incidental lightning, the car that won’t start, even the power failure while the nubile heroine is taking a shower. For a film that’s striving to be cutting-edge, these are old school tricks. And whatever new things they put in just ruin the story. The psychedelic tint at the beginning and end of the movie. The freezing of a scene when Nami and Kohei make a significant discovery. You get elements of The Blair Witch Project (hand-held camera shots), TV’s The Scariest Places On Earth (black-and-white corner of the room camera shots), and, of course Scooby Doo (vis, “Let’s see what’s in here…”) ;-)

The film could’ve used a few more fun elements, snappier dialogue, and one helluva better ending. When you see it, you’ll know what I mean.
For a film that tries to scare the pants off you, St. John’s Wort just isn’t
wort-h it.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 4/10
Chills: 1/10
Violence: 2/10
Sex: 0/10
Irritating Scooby Doo Ending Factor: grrrrr!/10
Survival Horror Games You Might Be Better Off Spending Your Money On: Resident Evil, Silent Hill 2, Project Zero, Eternal Darkness, etc etc etc
Mummies: in every cupboard - maybe there was a special offer on mummy props at the time
Scary Paintings: loads of them, and frankly the best thing about the movie IMHO *
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: none, but plenty of olde-worlde-style cobwebs and general filth

***Only recommended for fans of first-person survival horror gaming***

* If anyone knows the name of the artist who created the paintings for the movie, please mail us and let us know - Mandi would quite like one for her living room wall :-)

St John's Wort Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Larry Burns, 2003


Snowblood Apple Filmographies


Shimoyama Ten
Megumi Okina
Yoichiro Saito

Links

http://www.metamovie.de/film/stjohn.html - Harald's excellent review of the movie, with images and reader comments too - opinion seems to be very split on this film :-)
http://www.thelongestsite.de/RevMovie/RevJap/Otogiriso.html - review in German, with lots of pictures [German only]
http://www.sanchodoesasia.com/sdj/sdj_otogiriso.php - Sancho's review, with a few images [French only]
http://www.gothsanonymous.net/articles/c_fantas2002_3.htm - cry havoc, and let slip the Goths of war :-)
http://fantasia.visionglobale.ca/pages/eng/asp/film.asp?id=76 - a good review, with some information about Shimoyama Ten
http://www.ianchristy.com/filmlist_nippon.htm - loads of short reviews of Japanese movies, including Otogiriso
Background image of a St John's Wort flower courtesy of http://www.javajane.co.uk/

this review (c) Larry D Burns, 2003. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003 M. Apple. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.